The blogosphere is abuzz this morning with everyone and their pet rock weighing in on the relative worth (or lack thereof) of Lady Gaga's new single "Judas" and her recently unveiled cover for her album forthcoming album Born This Way. Maybe it's just me, but could people be any more negative?
I get where they're coming from. I, too, was once a reflexive Gaga hater. I don't know what made me dislike and resist her, but I did. I found her persona simple and her music lacking and I felt very much that she was nothing more than a Madonna rip-off - another in a long line of pretenders to the throne of her Madgesty. I think that, as a long time Madonna fan, I felt that giving in to Gaga would be akin to cheating on the icon I've followed for decades. But eventually, I gave in. I can't quite pinpoint where I started to come around to Gaga. It might have been in the San Rio store in L.A. in 2009 when I finally paid attention to "Poker Face." It might have been when Heidi used a lot of Gaga on her story soundtrack for Double Blind. Or maybe it was with "Bad Romance" and The Fame Monster - a point at which she really did "level up" a la Madonna with True Blue. Whatever it was, it happened. As my sister pointed out to me, it was only a matter of time.
Even though I know where they're coming from, I really don't understand it now and frankly, it's starting to really piss me off. Everything that Gaga does now is somehow dismissed out of hand by most people that should, by rights, be giving her the biggest chance. Instead, they seem to be steering clear of her almost out of some principle, dismissing every new song or look or piece of artwork out of hand and not giving it any sort of chance. I don't know that Gaga cares much, but I think that hating something on principle is not all that different (or misguided) than the opposite reaction - declaring a blinding love for when an artist really does turn out shit.
In many ways, this is where the Madonna comparison is most apt. The reflexive hatred of Madonna in the 80s and 90s is legendary. So little of it had to do with the music - most of it was based on perception and image. Admittedly, Madonna courted the controversy in much the same way that Gaga is. I think what bothers me the most about Gaga hatred is I feel like, in hating on Gaga, we're all turning into the worst version of our parents. You know what I'm talking about - the "would you turn that noise down?" and the "back in my day, there was REAL music." I was lucky in the fact that my folks really didn't do that too much - they're worst version of that was disliking remakes of 60s songs - but I feel like the sentiment against Gaga really seems to stem from that source a lot, especially amongst people my age. I feel like if we react like that, we're no better than the Madonna haters of yesteryear.
The thing is, good pop music is in short supply these days. I was listening to a genius playlist that I made based off of Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" and on that 50 song playlist were so many classic pop songs from the late 80s and even from the 90s. I feel like pop fell out of favor with the advent of grunge and while it had a bit of a renaissance with Britney Spears and the boy bands of the late 90s, it has never made a true and full comeback.
I was reading the Billboard Hot 100 the other day and, as has been true for nearly a decade now, every other song was "featuring" some rapper. Yes, we have Britney and Katy Perry charting in the upper echelons. But is anyone turning out pop music in its truest form like Gaga is? Is it a crime for something new to have something borrowed as well? So quickly we forget how Madonna co-opted other parts of the pop culture and brazenly made them her own. Sure, she might have been better and subtler about it than Gaga, but every time someone accuses Gaga of stealing something I just can't help but think that. With Gaga, I feel like there's a future for pure pop music. I don't feel like the future of pop music is in the hands of Britney Spears of Katy Perry. Each Britney album feels more and more forced and Katy Perry still has to prove herself to me. I'm man enough to admit that I like songs by both Spears and Perry and I'm also man enough to admit that Gaga is the one carrying the torch forward.
I'm used to the music I love being put down and hated on by most people - specifically, most men in our society. That doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. What does bother me is hating something on principle when, by rights, it's filling the void left by a Madonna that doesn't care about music anymore or a Whitney Houston whose voice has been trashed by drugs. Insert any other example you like, but for me, the fact remains that Gaga is making music that remains true to that which I have loved my whole life. She doesn't always succeed, but she comes closer than most.
The one point I will concede to the Gaga haters is that she is dreadfully overexposed at this point, and I do feel like she's bungling this album release a bit. But who really knows? The rules for releasing an album and singles are as clear as mud these days, so perhaps she really knows what she's doing? What she does need to do is disappear for a while, a la Madonna in 1988 and release NOTHING so that we don't gorge ourselves on Gaga and then puke it all back up.
I know this is not a popular opinion and I fully expect to be skewered for it. However, I stand by it. Gaga is imperfect and flawed. She's been controversial for controversy's sake, pushed buttons and stood up for herself and others that can't or that society has marginalized. She's also produced some amazing music. In these respects I find the comparison to Madonna to be most valid and why I feel like there's room enough for both in my life.
Perhaps Tori Amos is right when she said “She’s what I call a meteor — singers who entertain people for a while. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that… She wants to entertain people. Right now, half the world is depressed and they need to be entertained. So her timing’s perfect.” Maybe Gaga will flame out in a year, but I will guarantee you that when I'm in the nursing home, they'll be asking me to turn her music down.